The minister announced the new commercial arm of ISRO. India has already inked agreements with Russia and France for assistance in the ambitious project

by Rekha Dixit

India's space budget got a boost of Rs 1,273.26 crore in the budgetary estimates of 2019-20, with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocating Rs 12,473.26 crore to the department of space. This allocation includes the budget for Gaganyaan, India's maiden human space flight project, scheduled for 2022. The Gaganyaan project was cleared by the cabinet earlier this year with a financial outlay of Rs 10,000 crores.

The project includes three flights, two of which will be unmanned and the third will carry three astronauts (most likely test pilots of Indian Air Force) to a lower earth orbit destination. While the cost of the hardware (rockets, human module) will be a major part of the expenditure, Gaganyaan will also require life support systems and investments in training of the astronauts. Although three may be finally shortlisted for the flight, ten will be initially selected for the training, part of which will be in Russia. Just days ago, ISRO signed a contact with Glavkosmos, a launch service subsidiary of the Russian government's space corporation Roscosmos.

In the budget estimates announced today, Rs 8,408 crore has been allocated for space technology and Gaganyaan. In the revised estimates for the last fiscal, the allocation for space technology was Rs 6,993 crore. The space application outlay has increased from Rs 1,595 crore in the revised estimate of the last fiscal to Rs 1,885 crore this time. The allocation for the INSAT satellite system has reduced from Rs 1,330 crore to Rs 884 crore.

Meanwhile, the minister announced the new commercial arm of ISRO, called NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a public sector enterprise tasked with the responsibility to spearhead commercialisation of space products including launch vehicles, transfer of technology and the marketing of space products. The company was formed earlier this year.

NSIL is ISRO's second commercial arm, the first being Antrix, which was formed in 1992 to commercially market products and services of ISRO. It is still tasked with providing communication satellites to users, providing launch services for customer satellites, marketing of data from Indian and foreign remote sensing satellites, as well as marketing satellites and satellite systems. Antrix, however, got mired in the Antrix Devas scam, where, among the allegations, was that of conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds.

Devas was created by former ISRO employees. The negative publicity that the Devas misadventure brought tainted Antrix. While no one in ISRO speaks about this, it is obvious that NSIL is a new entity without the baggage of Antrix, which will be more acceptable to international and local customers, now that ISRO is getting charged up with marketing its services and products. Antrix, meanwhile, still exists as of now. It had a modest profit of Rs 211.21 lakhs in 2017-18, slightly lower than from 2016-17, when it earned Rs 218 lakhs (after taxes).